ST. PAUL (AP) -- The hockey savvy of Cleveland's fans is what persuaded Minnesota Wild general manager Doug Risebrough to sign a full affiliation agreement with the Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League.
''I like the idea that it's a big-city sports town and that our players are going to be able to compete in a city that will recognize their successes and their failures,'' Risebrough said Wednesday.
''When they do something really well, they'll be congratulated, and if it's not going well, they're going to hear about it,'' Risebrough said.
Risebrough said that is important because even though the Wild is an NHL expansion team, fans in Minnesota are knowledgeable about the game because of their long hockey history that includes the North Stars' stint in Minneapolis.
Risebrough and Lumberjacks owner Larry Gordon, who is trying to find a local buyer for his team, signed a two-year deal. The Wild agreed to supply Cleveland with 20 players, coaches and hockey operations staff.
Last season, the Lumberjacks were affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Gordon said he was thrilled with the new partnership.
''I am absolutely ecstatic about it,'' he said. ''Doug Risebrough has won the Stanley Cup as a player and as a coach. He knows what it takes to win and he knows what it takes to develop young hockey players.''
Gordon said only two players from last year's team, which went 40-30-12 and took fourth in the Eastern Conference, will remain: Chris Longo and Joe Frederick, who will attend the Wild's training camp in September.
The roster turnover shouldn't affect the team's sale but should give Cleveland a more competitive team, Gordon said.
Risebrough said he wouldn't name a Lumberjacks coach until he hires one for the Wild. That's expected to happen before the NHL expansion draft late next month.
Risebrough said he'd consider Jock Callandar, 39, the IHL's all-time scoring leader, as an assistant coach.
Risebrough said he and Gordon will discuss a secondary affiliate to serve as a feeder system and increase competition on the Lumberjacks.
The Lumberjacks franchise originated as the Muskegon (Mich.) Zephyrs in 1960-65. The team's name changed twice to the Mohawks (1965-84) and the Lumberjacks (1985-92) before the franchise relocated to Cleveland in 1992-93. The Lumberjacks played two seasons at the Richfield Coliseum before moving into the new Gund Arena for the 1994-95 season.
The team's lease at Gund Arena runs through the 2002-2003 season.
Gordon, 61, has served as the team's general manager and chairman for 16 years. Under his direction, the team won six consecutive division titles, three regular season championships and two Turner Cup championships.
The Wild begins play in the Northwest Division of the NHL's Western Conference this October.
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